Monday, June 22, 2009

Weather and Sports

Full disclosure: I was rooting for Phil Michelson. A Hollywood ending would have him the winner, what with his lovely wife Amy about to undergo treatment for breast cancer, but also that he had a chance to win the Open, having come in second so many times.

It was a weekend of golf which needed the old saw, 'It never rains on a golf course' to justify playing under the lousy conditions which all encountered.

The last phrase, 'which all encountered' is the usual justification for declaring that the competition was fair. But that assumes that the competitors experienced the same conditions at the same time.

Such was not case in this year's US Open. Interestingly enough there came to be a distinction between those who began play in the morning last Thursday, now known as the first wave, and those who began play in the afternoon, now known as the second wave.

Those in the first wave gave several strokes to those in the second wave, a virtual handicap, due to the different weather conditions in the two time periods.

The golf analysts pointed out that Tiger Woods was in the first wave. To his credit I didn't hear him talk about that as a handicap. I'd like to know how well those in the first wave did and where they finished in the final rankings.

The other night the baseball umpires, knowing that awful conditions for playing baseball were a certainty long before a nine inning game could possibly have been completed, said "Play ball" at the designated start time. In MLB a game is considered complete after an arbitrary number of innings have been played. I thing it's five innings, but if I don't have that right, it doesn't negate the relevance of the question I'm posing in this piece.

It has to do with what is known, expected or at least predicted, about weather conditions which
might affect the game to the extent that it could favor one side or the other. In the NFL the game is played within a pre-established time frame, such that both sides are dealing with the same conditions, fair weather or foul. In such a situation perhaps one team is more adept at taking advantage of the conditions better than the other, but that's a function of talent more than weather.

Some sporting events are usually played in a venue which is shielded from outside weather conditions; basketball comes to mind. other sports are experimenting with playing in forums not traditional to their sport. Outdoor Ice Hockey, Arena football, Beach Volleyball come to mind.

Baseball stadiums with roofs came into being to make games weather proof.
They are a shining example of how weather can affect outcomes.

Golf, duh, can't do that. In baseball umpires should have confidence that predicted weather conditions will prevail in deciding whether or not to shout, Play Ball.

In golf it's the PGA authorities who need to do what they can to level the playing field.

TV time, sponsors, audience predictions make this very difficult to do. But when lightening is present the course is abandoned as quickly as possible. Predictions of two inches of rain should be enough to signal a halt to play as well.


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